Synthetic Cannabinoids: Reclassification — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:38 am on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department 10:38 am, 6th November 2018

The hon. Gentleman has jumped ahead of my remarks. I am sure he understands the context, because he is a sensible man. In this complex situation, when dealing with something fast-moving, the Government have to take decisions based on good evidence and a good understanding of the risks, the threats, the drivers of the market, the changes in the market and the likely consequences and implications of decisions, including about classification. I am setting out a series of urgent pieces of work that will look at the drugs market in a broader sense, which is a big step in itself, and a specific commissioning of the National Crime Agency to look at the threat assessment of synthetic cannabinoids—for the first time, as I understand it—with a commitment to report back to us in spring.

I am also asking the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, whose advice we rely on for decisions on classification, to advise on refreshing its assessment. We have not done that in the last few months because the honest truth is that it has not been that long since the council last took a view in 2014. In this fast-changing environment, however, and given the representations of real concern made by Members of Parliament and by police and crime commissioners, it is the right moment to ask the council to refresh that assessment of synthetic cannabinoids’ harms.

Hon. Members, and not least my hon. Friend for Mansfield, have been clear that reclassification is not a silver bullet—to use that cliché—and that we need to get several other things right. We should also be clear that reclassification would arguably not significantly increase the police’s powers to deal with the possession, supply and production of these substances. Instead, it would primarily increase the penalties for possession from a maximum of five years in prison to seven years, and for supply and production from a maximum of 14 years in prison to life. The House will have its own view on whether that change would have a material impact as a deterrent.

The Government rely on advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, whose last assessment was in 2014. Even though that does not seem that long ago, based on representations made to me, it is the right to time to ask it to refresh its assessment. I give that undertaking to hon. Members. I congratulate and thank my hon. Friend for Mansfield for his tireless passion in pursuing this cause, and other hon. Members for making it clear to the Government that there is no room for complacency.